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Two Birds One Stone: Sustainable Public Transport As A Catalyst For Improved Health & Wellbeing

On the lecture

The fifth lecture in the lecture series by Alan Wann introduced the paradigm of sustainable transport, discussing the evolution of urban sustainability, attitudes towards urban mobility in major European countries, precedent countries for god public transport, solutions and more. Using the knowledge from the lecture, it is in this post I aim to go beyond the borders of “sustainable transport” and reveal ways in which it can trigger a domino effect to solve health crises in the UK.

Introduction

It used to be that the term “sustainability” was but a concept used to describe only using natural resources, however, today we are reaching ever closer to the environmental endgame. According to Our Common Future, sustainable development is defined as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ (Jarvie, 2016). One such area for improvement is transportation, the largest sector in the UK since 2016 and responsible for producing 24% of the UK’s total emissions in 2020, 91% of which derives from domestic transport from road vehicles and the biggest contributors being the automobile, which amount to 52% of the emissions from domestic transport (GOV.UK, n.d.).

Figure 1: Greenhouse gas emissions by sector, 2020, by proportion

Research in transport has always been focused on factors such as length of journey or access to transport, however, the truth is travel is inevitable regardless of one’s mode of choice, be it work or leisure and can impact the lives of many. Apart from facilitating access to services and other opportunities, transport has also played a signifiant role in supporting or even hindering social connections, which in turn influences health (Cooper et al., 2019). As such, investing in good public transport that is also sustainable is of utmost importance if we are to move towards a healthier city.

Sustainable Transport vs Sustainable Transportation System

Sustainable transport, sometimes known as “green transport” is ‘any form of transport that does not use or rely on dwindling natural resources. Instead it relies on renewable or regenerated energy rather than fossil fuels that have a finite life expectancy. For this reason it is said to have a low or a negative effect on the environment since it makes use of energy sources that are sustainable.’ (earthtimes.org, n.d.) A “sustainable transportation system” on the other hand, according to the European Union Council of Ministers of Transport (EUCMT), define it as one that ‘allows the basic access and development needs of individuals, companies and society to be met safely and in a manner consistent with human and ecosystem health, and promotes equity within and between successive generations.’ (European Commission – European Commission, 2020). It must also be affordable, operate fairly and efficiently while offering a range of transport modes and support a competitive economy.

The link between transport and health 

Figure 2: Positive impacts on health through sustainable public transport

The UK is currently facing a myriad of health related issues, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease, conditions linked to physical inactivity. Transport also plays a key role in providing people access to health services such as GP surgeries, hospitals and more, services that are particularly important for elderly or disabled people who live in rural areas as public transport might be their only link. We can therefore conclude that poor transport links could constrain people from accessing the services they require, additionally, transport permits medical practitioners to access their own workplace to tend to patients. As a result of this increase in demand for the automobile, primarily likened for its convenience and efficiency, wellbeing has also seen a severe decline especially in the UK. It allows people to connect and maintain relationships on top of physical health.

Bridging the gap between the automobile and pedestrian

Figure 3: Florence (left) and an Atlanta interchange (right) at the same scale

It is clear that the rise of the automobile has taken away what it means to have a healthy lifestyle and countries all over the world have seen a surge in demand since the automotive industry’s inception. As this article has thus far discussed ways in which transport can directly impact health and wellbeing, simply concluding that introducing sustainable alternatives to the antagonist of this narrative, the automobile, is far too simple. Though EV cars are a proven solution, it is a short term one and there is still much to consider during the manufacture and lifecycle such as raw materials and electricity, but it can be admitted that a great impact can be made as a collective. The automobile can no doubt offer great convenience and mobility, but can impede upon the mobility of others by marginalizing road users and discouraging walking or cycling simply due to the way the built environment is designed to favour cars.

Interventions

The right planning approach can encourage a shift towards a wider range of transportation modes that can contribute to a sustainable transportation system. Transport interventions therefore have the potential to mitigate health problems borne of physical inactivity, and in turn reduce health declination. These might include targeted bus services to improve access to healthcare and reduce commuting times. Others include:

 

  • Integrating more walking and cycling facilities. the UK aims yo make cycling and walking the natural first choice for a typical journey with half of all journeys in towns and cities being cycled or walked by 2030 (GOV.UK, n.d.).
  • Legislation also appears to be another intervention that the UK has taken a stride into, aiming to end its contribution to climate change as the Prime Minister, Transport Secretary and Business Secretary announced the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, putting the UK on course to be the fastest G7 country to decarbonize cars and vans.
  • Social/behavioural actions have in the past proven that the power in the people can be effective. The Netherlands for example invested heavily in the provision of cycling facilities due to an increase in accidents to cyclists following from a huge growth in the use of the automobile.

Bibliography

References

Cooper, E., Gates, S., Grollman, C., Mayer, M., Davis, B. and Bankiewicz, U. (2019). Transport, health, and wellbeing: An evidence review for the Department for Transport Prepared for: Department for Transport Prepared for: The Department for Transport. [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/847884/Transport__health_and_wellbeing.pdf.

earthtimes.org. (n.d.). Sustainable Transport | The Earth Times | Encyclopaedia. [online] Available at: https://earthtimes.org/encyclopaedia/environmental-issues/sustainable-transport/ [Accessed 10 Nov. 2022].

European Commission – European Commission. (2020). Press corner. [online] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/PRES_01_131.

GOV.UK. (n.d.). The second cycling and walking investment strategy (CWIS2). [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-second-cycling-and-walking-investment-strategy/the-second-cycling-and-walking-investment-strategy-cwis2.

GOV.UK. (n.d.). Transport and environment statistics 2022. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/transport-and-environment-statistics-2022/transport-and-environment-statistics-2022.

Jarvie, M.E. (2016). Brundtland Report | publication by World Commission on Environment and Development. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Brundtland-Report.

Mihaylova, N. (2021). How transport offers a route to better health | The Health Foundation. [online] www.health.org.uk. Available at: https://www.health.org.uk/publications/long-reads/how-transport-offers-a-route-to-better-health.

 

Appendix

Figure 1

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/transport-and-environment-statistics-2022/transport-and-environment-statistics-2022

Figure 2

https://www.health.org.uk/publications/long-reads/how-transport-offers-a-route-to-better-health

Figure 3

https://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/06/13/the-whole-city-of-florence-could-fit-inside-an-atlanta-interchange/

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School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Telephone: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk